In 2014 I was officially diagnosed with sleep apnea. Since then I have been using a CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machine in order to breathe properly while sleeping. And so, in 2015 when I first found out I had the opportunity to go to Burning Man, the first thing that came to my mind was, “how am I going to power my CPAP machine?”
After some Google searching I was taken to the Mobility Camp website. Mobility Camp is one of the few camps with power at Black Rock City; this allows people with medical conditions to charge their devices. They were kind enough to allow me to recharge my battery pack during the day to power my CPAP machine at night. Without the Rat Lady and Mobility Camp I would never have been able to sleep properly. And for those that know, good sleep is a valuable commodity during Burning Man. However, having a charging station is only one aspect of the camp. I wanted to capture some images of what Mobility Camp is all about; the people, infrastructure, equipment. I think it’s important to raise awareness so everyone can enjoy the Burn. After all, Radical Inclusion is one of Burning Man’s principles.
Words by: The Rat Lady
Photos by: Jeff Cruz (REdOX)
Mobility Camp Beginnings
Mobility Camp started in 1997 when Dale Huntsman (the Giant Head) started camping with some mobility challenged folks and assisting them. As the years progressed it evolved while he built and experimented. Wayne Merchant took over from Dale after seven years. Wayne collected equipment and kept running the electric mobility equipment that was loaned out to Burners in need. Wayne also moved the camp into it’s current Center Camp Plaza. This new location allowed the Burning Man Organization (BMOrg) to lend their power grid so we can charge and run medical equipment such as: electric wheelchairs, CPAP machines, oxygen concentrators, etc. In 2012 Wayne had an accident and I took over as he could no longer run the camp. Because I have neither the space or knowledge to keep a lot of power equipment running we have shifted our focus to education, services and non-powered equipment.
Rat Lady loading onto the accessible Art Tour Trailer
Radical Inclusion by Radical Accessibility
There is a perception that you can’t do Burning Man in a wheelchair. While it’s true, Black Rock City (BRC) is one of the least wheelchair friendly environments on the planet, it can still be done if you know how to prepare and what kind of equipment to use (see the Prepare your Chair section on the website). For many years nothing during Burning Man was accessible. We are slowly changing that. Most Burners would never exclude someone intentionally, they just never think that someone in a chair would be there! We teach camps, artists and interested Burners how to be more inclusive by being more accessible!
Running the wheelchair obstacle course
Services Offered at Mobility Camp
- An accessible camp.
- Public charging station for medical equipment.
- Two hour Art Tours into the Deep Playa Art, 4 times a day starting at 5:45 am (So that we can be at the Temple at sunrise).
- Loaning out approximately: 18 wheelchairs, 15 walkers, one knee scooter, misc. crutches in various sizes, leg braces, handcycles, bicycles with seats or sidecars, a 3rd wheel attachment for manual wheelchairs and trailers for bikes.
- We hold a workshop on Wednesday on how to be more wheelchair friendly.
- We collect a list of wheelchair friendly activities and volunteer opportunities on the Playa.
- On some years, a braille map of BRC is available at our desk.
- Two obstacle courses for the able bodied to try out. One for wheelchairs and one for crutches.
A sample of the loanable/giftable equipment.
In the Media
ABC news affiliate KOLO 8 NewsNow did a story on the camp including a short of an obstacle course participant. The thing we kept hearing over and over was, “wow! I had no idea!”
Click Here for Full Kolo Tv News Article
History of the Camp Leaders
Our camp leaders are scattered all over the country, there are three of us from Southern California. For myself (Rat Lady), I currently live in Hesperia, California, at an altitude and climate very much like Black Rock City! Some are from the Bay area, Reno, the Midwest, Florida and the Northeast. We’ve had a number of campers from Canada, Germany, France, etc. The Core folks keep in touch during the year online and on the phone. I try to get up to Burning Man Headquarters (BMHQ) a couple of times a year to offer assistance to theme camps wanting to be more wheelchair friendly. We all connected either on the Internet or on the Playa.
The camp’s mechanic, Chris on the “Santa Chair” a personal mutant vehicle loaned to us for the 2014 Burn, built on an electric wheelchair base.
All campers are required to work four, four-hour shifts for the camp. We welcome outside volunteers, but rarely get them. A lot of our equipment is donated by other Burners. We have a community kitchen area with a tarped floor for all our tent campers to use which cuts down on MOOP. There is an accessible sun shower rig available for all to use with their own shower bag. The community seating/hangout area next to the kitchen is where camp members can congregate. We do not make communal meals because many have special diets. We tried it in the past, it didn’t work at all. We are happy for any support from other camps or Burners.
Community kitchen area
Accessibility of Art Installations on the Playa
Sadly most Playa art installations are not friendly to the mobility challenged, unless they are flat and on the ground level; however, it is getting better. Historically, Temples built by David Best were always accessible. The Man base is often not accessible, but we hope they will continue to improve that. This last year (2015), the Spoken Word Stage in the Cafe and one art car, Charlie the Unicorn had ramps! Things are moving forward, albeit not as fast as we would like. However, the more Burners that are aware of accessibility the better it will get. Most things could easily be made accessible if thought of during the planning phase. For ideas, visit the Mobility Camp website.
Art Tour Trailer (without the Dragonfly golf cart normally towing because it succumbed to the dust!)
What People Can Do to Help
Many different folks will fit well with our camp. We are one of the most diverse camps out there. Usually about 65% are mobility impaired with 35% able bodied campers. We range in age from 18 to 85+ and come from all walks of life. Our wish list is on the camp website, but our biggest needs are a golf cart with hand controls (or the use of one during the burn), a truck (the use of one during the Burn would be ideal) to tow our Art Tour Trailer, wheelchairs (with footrests), knee scooters, walkers (with large wheels and seats), monetary donations are always needed and appreciated as the majority of our campers live on fixed incomes.
The Temporary Tattoo Station, Book Crossing Zone and Gifting Box is a part of the front desk area of the camp.
The Ultimate Goal
As a Camp, our ultimate goal is to educate ourselves out of existence. Once everything on the Playa is accessible, there will be no need for our Camp!